Turkish Airlines is another order of airline entirely. Air travel hasn’t been this genteel for ages: in the UK luxury is only for the moneyed traveller, and in the United States it’s disappeared altogether (unless you own a private jet) for coming up twenty years now (thanks very much for that, TSA). Trish and I have been so thoroughly Anglicised that complimentary drinks came as an actual shock, and as for the meals (not snacks… honest-to-god meals)… Well, we probably haven’t actually eaten that well at home in a while. Seats that reclined, legroom, delightful airhostesses, and lovely exotic music before and after take-off. Flying like I remember from my youth. Not to mention that, the further we get from the land of paranoia, the less dehumanising and humiliating air security becomes. I’ve gotten so use to surrendering my dignity that I’m unprepared for it when it’s enough to simply walk through the metal detector – shoes and belt and all.
It’s coming up to sunset in Istanbul and we’ve made our way out of the airport and figured out how to buy tokens for the metro (a pretty Turkish girl facilitated our communications with the man at the gate and helped us get change for the machine) and we’re on a tram now shooting through Sultanakmet, the historic district of the city. Approaching from the outskirts, the view of Istanbul from its edge was breath-taking and imposing; the city piles up on itself, rising in heaps and steps of domed mosques and palaces, ancient streets running like cataracts down in every direction. The city is awesome… as in awe-inspiring. Twinkling lights peaked out from a hundred thousand windows and cafes as dusk settled and we made our way in, and it felt a little like riding a magic carpet into a fairytale.
Sultanakmet is the epicentre of all the magic. Back when this city was the capital of the Roman Empire, this was the happening place to be. From what we can see out of the window of this tram it looks like it’s now mainly tourists rambling around trying to get a deal on cheap lamps and magnets (I’m not going to lie, Trish and I buy a magnet for every city we visit), but that doesn’t detract from the sweeping majesty of works like the Haggia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. But we can only catch a glimpse as our tram continues on its way.
One of the difficult things about this trip is that we’re pretty much always on the move. We’re here in Turkey for two days, and I could spend a month here easily. So we should be picking and choosing very carefully. In actual fact, a lot of what we end up doing is sort of wandering ‘round and getting a little lost. Not that we ever actually get lost. Vodafone’s been getting their pound of flesh since we left the UK. Roaming charges for wireless Internet are through the roof, but we haven’t been anywhere long enough for getting a new SIM card to seem like a good idea yet. But we just bumble a bit… It’s okay for us – we see the world through the eyes of wandering vagabonds, and we like it that way.